Edcouch-Elsa’s Whalen signs to play football at Howard Payne

ELSA — There’s a saying at Edcouch-Elsa High School — “once a Jacket, always a Jacket.”

That applies to Yellow Jackets senior defensive back Ryan Whalen, who signed a national letter of intent to continue his academic and football career with the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets on Thursday at Edcouch-Elsa High School, surrounded by family, friends and coaches.

“It’s a big accomplishment. It feels great for hard work to pay off and to go and play at the next level,” Whalen said. “It’s been a goal since my sophomore year. I really pushed myself to make it to the next level. I had my coaches and my family behind me and they helped me accomplish this.”

Whalen developed into a force in the Yellow Jackets secondary during his two years playing varsity football. He helped carry the torch for their “Thunder Defense,” which was one of the fiercest units across the Rio Grande Valley the previous two seasons.

“It’s always been a dream growing up here in Edcouch to play Yellow Jacket football. It feels great to be a part of this tradition,” Whalen said.

As a junior, he finished third on the team in tackles with 76, had four tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, three forced fumbles and one interception.

During his senior year, Whalen led the Yellow Jackets defense with 75 tackles in seven games, six pass breakups, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception returned for a 72-yard touchdown against PSJA Memorial.

He was a unanimous first team all-district selection and an all-area first team selection by The Monitor this past season. He also earned a spot to play in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl next month at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington.

Whalen played under his father and Edcouch-Elsa assistant coach Michael Whalen.

“I’d like to thank my family, most importantly, my dad for coaching me, and coach (Victor) Cardenas and (Martin) Marichalar for taking a chance on me. It means a lot that they’re here to support me on this big day,” he said.

Now, Whalen is set to take his game to Howard Payne in Brownwood, an NCAA Division III program that competes in the American Southwest Conference.

“I’m looking forward to more exposure from other people, more competition. You have to take your game up to the next level and competition is a big thing for me, so I always take that into consideration,” he said. “(They’re getting) a hardworking player. I put all my effort into the game and I play with my heart, and that’s where it comes from — Edcouch-Elsa,” he said.

bramos@themonitor.com